Private property values increase; officials cautious

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Growth in private property values was tempered by fewer home sales and a higher average cost for homes that moved on the market in 2008, according to new figures from the Warren County Tax Assessor’s Office.

True values in Vicksburg and Warren County totaled $3,342,312,591 in 2008, a jump of 1.058 percent from 2007. Supervisors — who implied an overall increase in land values was the only sure way to prevent raising property taxes — showed a measure of relief, but remained wary.

County “departments are going to have to tighten the belts like we asked them to last year,” District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale said Monday after Deputy Tax Assessor Jim Agent updated supervisors on what’s available to be taxed.

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Agent said the figures may change slightly as information on high-end new construction is finalized. Supervisors are expected to take up the land rolls and industrial tax exemption applications July 7 and spend the rest of that week checking the rolls for consistency between assessments and values. Once the rolls are declared in order, property owners have 30 days to view what the county says their property is worth and file written challenges if they object. Formerly, property owners were not notified of increases. Starting after the most recent county elections, postcards containing limited information are mailed when there is a significant increase.

Supervisors did not quantify the chances of a tax rate increase in terms of the updated figures — but have leaned against raising rates a second time in as many years. “I think that’s what it’s going to be,” Board President Richard George said of the shade-above-1 percent uptick.

Home sales for the tax year that ended Dec. 31, 2008, dropped to 221 from 278 in 2007 and 562 in 2006, Agent said. Houses that sold went for $157,045 on average, up more than 15 percent from those tracked for 2007. The decline in sales is palpable, Agent said, despite the lack of an open disclosure law in Mississippi showing exact home prices and, thus, making for a conservative estimate for each year in terms of the total.  

“What happened was the smaller homes didn’t turn over quite as much as the big, expensive homes,” Agent said.

This year, notices detailing increases of $5,000 or more in true value will be sent to 409 of the area’s 25,881 parcels this year, dramatically fewer than the 1,600 who received them last year. None will be sent to those 65 and older who already receive property tax exemptions, Agent said. 

Information on the notices includes the property owner’s name, address, parcel location and identification numbers. Upon receipt, those receiving them who have questions are asked to contact the Tax Assessor’s Office. The new assessment figure is given, but the previous assessment is not, meaning some property owners may believe the notices are routine when they really signify a sharp increase in taxes they’ll owe in January.

Tax exemptions and abatements also may alter the land rolls. Of 11,883 homesteads in Warren County, 11,526 have homestead exemption applications ready to take effect for this year, up from 11,416 at this time last year. About $35 million was lost from land rolls due to departed industries Yorozu Automotive Mississippi and Simpson Dura-Vent, Agent said.

Setting values involves using state-set formulas to determine totals for new construction and parcels for which usage has ceased or changed. A fourth of Warren County tracts are revalued each year, often prompting higher assigned values even if home prices are falling. This year, areas in the southwestern portion of the county were re-evaluated.

Newly built property coming on the tax rolls this year will include three hotels in Vicksburg, plus Riverwalk Casino and improvements at Ameristar Casino. Values had risen an average of 3.5 percent for five consecutive years prior to 2007, with city, county and school taxes mostly level.

Values rose just half a percent in the run-up to budget planning last summer as officials dealt with record fuel prices nationwide. A 2.79-mill hike in this year’s $15.7 million operating budget OK’d by county supervisors went to cover energy needs, particularly the Sheriff’s Department and Road Department, and raised tax bills about $28 higher for every $100,000 assessed even as city and school tax rates went unchanged.

Individual budget requests from Vicksburg and Warren County departments are expected to continue through the first week in July. Budgets are prepared by late August and tax rates are set at separate meetings in September.

The City of Vicksburg and the Vicksburg Warren School District also use the county valuations for tax purposes.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at